Tuesday, 29 July 2014

100 LPs Shortlist #38: Joe Jackson - "Look Sharp"



"New Wave", "Punk", "New Wave of British Heavy Metal", "New Romantics", "New Wave of New Wave" - all terms thrown around by professional music writers like confettti at a wedding. And they're all largely ridiculous. And do they describe the music and the fashion?

They all become meaningless when trying to describe some of the artists who sprung up at the time most of these labels were invented in the late 1970s. Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson, Ian Dury and Graham Parker all got saddled with at least two of these descriptions when they started but they ended up with a musical legacy that defied the classification.

Joe Jackson's debut was one of the best records that appeared during this period. It's probably one of the best debut records of all time. The songs are short, sharp and very pointed lyrically. The playing is tight, the arrangements spare and the attack is blunt.

Joe demonstrated a great grasp of lyrical directness. This probably best summed up in the sexually frustrated first single "Is She Really Going Out With Him?" with its opening line:

"Pretty women out walking with gorillas down my street..."

It's as hilarious as it probably was accurate when he wrote it.

Joe was originally saddled with the description of one of "British music's angry young men" when this record came out. And to be sure, there's plenty of bile contained within the grooves. His pet subjects on this outing include relationship breakups ("One More Time"), romantic couples affronting his singledom ("Happy Loving Couples", "Fools In Love"), tabloid newspapers ("Sunday Papers"), short-lived cultural fads ("Do The Instant Mash"), the daily grind ("Got The Time") and of course, the aforementioned sexual frustration ("Pretty Girls"). All subjects are handled with his characteristic candor.

It's a great listen from top to bottom. As I was an adult singleton at the time I first heard this album, it resonated profoundly. I just wish the guitars were a little louder in the mix, which would give the songs a lot more bite. Still, the energy in a lot of these songs is at fever pitch.

Anthrax made an inspired choice to take the hardest rocking song on this album "Got The Time" and make it their own in 1990. Ironically, by giving the guitars much more bite. They copy the arrangement so closely that they even include a bass solo in their cover. Hearing this version lead me to seek out Joe's original version, contained herein.

In my view, Joe never bettered this album. Less than 12 months after this release, he released what could arguably be described as "Look Sharp Volume 2", a slightly inferior album called "I'm The Man" before confounding audience and critics expectations with a dub reggae LP "Beat Crazy" in 1980, then a Jump Blues album of Cab Calloway tunes called "Jumping Jive" and then smooth pop on "Night and Day" in 1982.

No wonder the "New Wave" tag didn't sit well with him.

Take a listen and let me know what you think in the comments.

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